BAGEHOT: To what extent do you think this is about an incompatibility between the liberal, common law, British form of government and what is basically a Christian Democratic project? You mentioned Monnet. You could add Schuman, Giscard d’Estaing, Kohl—they’re all Rhineland, Catholic (perhaps that’s not specifically relevant to this), fundamentally Christian Democratic types with all the corporatist baggage that this implies. It is that London and Brussels are just not culturally interoperable?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: Yes, and it bites every day with the collision between the EU and parliamentary government, common law and our civil service administration. We have something very valuable in Britain: civil servants try and stick to the law. They don’t want to cheat things, they don’t want to lie and they don’t want to do things the way they do things in lots of other European countries. And that has been very good for the country. One of the things I found most depressing in government was seeing how the EU process is corrupting that and making it extremely hard for people to stay honest. Ministers constantly have to lie about what the origins of things are. They constantly have to invent Potemkin processes. And civil servants say: “as good civil servants, we have to tell you that our advice is that this may be illegal.” And because it’s Britain and not Greece the ministers don’t just say “screw that, who cares if it’s legal?”; they have to take that seriously. There’s an inherent problem with this and there is no way out of it unfortunately while we stay part of the EU system.

There is a clear way in which we come to a new deal: we repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and the supremacy of EU law, we negotiate a free trade deal with the EU (which is in all of our interests), we also have sensible laws on the free movement of people. At the moment government immigration policy is arguably the most stupid policy that we have. It is a free-for-all that doesn’t even stop convicted murderers from coming into the country from Europe; meanwhile it stops physicists from Caltech or software engineers from India coming in who can build things, who can contribute in valuable ways to this country as immigrants have done historically. That is extremely stupid and extremely damaging, and outside the EU we would have a much more rational immigration system that would not do those things. Businesses that want to trade with the Single Market could trade with the Single Market but the rest of the domestic economy and the economy that is trading with the rest of the world would not have to abide by things like that stupid Clinical Trials Directive or “you can’t sell olive oil in barrels of more than five litres”.

BAGEHOT: Don’t you think it would damage Europe for Britain to leave the EU?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: No. That’s one of the main reasons why I want it to happen: I think it will be very good for Britain, for Europe and also for the world. It is possible that they will find a way of delivering the original Monnet-Delors dream of a centralised federation in which Brussels is the government and central tax-raising powers of the EU Parliament are somehow transformed into the equivalent of Congress. However, it is at least iffy whether it will work, and it’s very important that other countries develop a mechanism whereby everyone in Europe can trade freely and co-operate in a friendly way. Extremists are on the rise in Europe and are being fuelled unfortunately by the Euro project and by the centralisation of power in Brussels. It it is increasingly important that Britain offers an example of civilised, democratic, liberal self-government.

Overall we need far more international co-operation. Voting to leave, for me and for the people in this office, is not about isolation. Quite the opposite. It is obvious to anyone who sees the direction of our technological civilisation that we need more international co-operation, not less. The problem with the EU is not that it’s about co-operation, but that it’s so rubbish at it. If we vote to leave it will force not just Europe but countries around the world to think more intelligently about the new institutions we need to cope with things like gene drives, lethal autonomous robotics, you name it. 

BAGEHOT: Let’s park the question of whether Britain is in or out. Where do you see the EU, on its current trajectory, in 30 years? Do you think it will still be together?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: On a 30-year timescale I don’t. They’ll either have found a way to make the Euro work, and Britain will be part of it. Or, more likely, the system will have broken up in some way. And part of the reason why I think the sooner Britain gets out of it the better is precisely so that we can begin the process of building alternative structures now that the EU can morph into.

BAGEHOT: Structures like?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: Structures for trading and co-operating outside the current Brussels system, because the worst possible thing would be a sudden collapse of various parts of the EU project, possibly precipitated by the victory of fascist or semi-fascist parties in parts of Europe which then pull a country out of the Euro triggering some kind of systemic domino effect. What we need to do is build crumple zones, some resilience in the system, and if Britain gets out now we can begin building up these networks, with places like Switzerland and non-Euro EU countries too, and showing people: this is how the EU system can evolve if you guys realise that the Monnet system is going to hit the buffers. Providing options, providing diversity. That was good for Europe post-renaissance, it’s good for Europe now.

BAGEHOT: Dominic Cummings, many thanks.